Berlin Day 1

We left Saturday April 30 & except for sitting next to a man who drowned his fear of flying in alcohol on the NW/SAS flight from Seattle to Memphis, it was a good trip.  The Memphis & Amsterdam flights were both nice smooth rides, with the landing in Amsterdam so smooth I didn't even feel it at all! Amsterdam security was understaffed at the metal detectors so 6 lines of people bottlenecked into 2, but we had 3 hours there & didn't wait till the last minute to go thru. Upon arrival in Berlin, we didn't have to go thru any security at all. My mom's neighbor generously volunteered his Mercedes minivan to pick us up so that was a welcome improvement over a cab.
 
We stopped at the apartment Mom rented for us, a nice little 1 BR place in her building, just around the corner from her apartment, to drop off our bags. The kitchen was incomplete, but it had an American style toilet, new shower, coffee & hot water pots, unusual style hideabed and even a pair of bunkbeds. There was a balcony off the bedroom that looks over a grassy courtyard behind the building. 

After dropping off our stuff, we went up to my Mom's to rest & chat for a nice visit with her and my brother Roger & had  a light meal & Freixenet champagne-my favorite! We left her place around 8 PM and despite the exhaustion of being up for 30 hours straight, we strolled the park-like walk  along the canal fronting our building before going to bed. It was such a nice balmy evening that it would have been a shame to waste it. On our way back, a river boat called Belvedere passed us going up the canal. It appeared to be a dinner cruise. We decided we would try to go on it one evening. I dropped into a dead sleep when we got back but woke up abruptly after only a couple of hours and couldn't go back to sleep till morning (body clock adjusting to a 9 hour time difference.)

Click for larger view

Day 2

This was quite a full day. We breakfasted with Mom--I love the food! Even simple things like bread are better than at home. We got 7-day bus passes (cost is 24.50 €) to use while here & headed off to the cemetery. It was very hot, over 80 degrees F! Unusual for this time of year. That would have been fine but Mom wanted to ride at the top level of the bus in front where there are NO OPENING WINDOWS. We were dripping by the time we arrived. It was a very pretty ride though, going through one of the wealthy quarters of the city where there are a lot of nice villas and fine homes. The cemetery system here is far different than at home. A plot is leased by the square meter for a minimum of 20 years instead of purchased outright. My Opi's lease was up last year so when my Omi died 7 years ago, Mom put her with her sister because it cost less to renew that lease since it had only been 4 years between their deaths. It was sad for me to stop by Opi's grave and see no marker and his flowers all gone. One thing I like about the system here though is that each gravesite is its own little garden planted by families in whatever way suits them. Often larger sites have little boxwood hedges planted all around them & some fairly fancy gardens inside. 

After the cemetery, we went to the area Mom lived last time we were here. We had döners (Turkish roasted lamb sandwiches served in pita bread with shredded veggies and yummy sauce, a favorite of ours) & shopped a little. Embroidered cloth ware is popular & inexpensive in Germany so I always try to pick up a tablecloth or runner. I got two 1x1 Meter tablecloths for 2.99 € each. Roger was waiting for us by the time we got back to Mom's. He took us shopping while Mom cooked dinner. We walked to Wilmersdorf where there is quite a busy shopping district. We exchanged money there and got .69 € per $1. We strolled back, dying of heat and blistered feet but I went into a cool little Middle Eastern shop and bought a 2-cup votive holder of black metal and yellow glass for my library/computer room. We took the bus the rest of the way back. After dinner we went to Roger's for the rest of the evening. He lives in Spandau, the district next to Charlottenburg where Mom lives. It was quick by U-Bahn but about 2x as long by bus, as we found out on our way back. Roger and I played our traditional set of 3 games of cribbage. When it was time to leave, he got us on the bus to go back toward mom's and even had the bus driver tell us where to get off, but we turned the wrong way & ended up walking about a mile the opposite direction before we found a bus map & saw what had happened. We had ridden and walked so far that day that everything looked familiar so we didn't realize the problem for a long time. We got back to our apt at 11:30 PM after walking for an hour. 


Day 3

This was another nice day but thankfully at least 10 degrees cooler. After breakfast, we headed out for the Egyptian Museum but Mom & Roger really had no idea exactly where it was so since we were in the touristy area around Brandenburg Gate, we did a lot of sightseeing from the bus 100 route which goes along the main stretch from Charlottenburg to the Zoo, past the Victory Angel, through the Tiergarten & ends at the Zoo. We walked around the Brandenburg Gate because Roger said there was a special presentation there right now. It is called Berlin 180° & tracks the destruction and rebuilding of the Gate area from WW2 till now. So, below, just in front of the Gate is a large mural of the Gate all damaged & surrounded by rubble. It's placed so that when you look up at it, it displays the view of the Gate to just beneath the top where the 4 Horseman can be seen and the view blends the two. This display is curved, with the outer curve facing the Gate side. On that side, there is a text & pictorial timeline that begins with the wartorn rubble of 1945 & tracks the changes through today. As we rode the bus & looked at these things, Mom supplemented this with her own memories of growing up & what it looked like when she & Dad lived here in 1965. It was both sad & impressive to see images of the destruction and the reconstruction keeping in mind all the while that much of the rebuilding was done with the city divided into 5 pieces with the East part totally cut off from the rest. The East's radiotower (the Funkturm) is in this area too & Mom had only been up it once, when Troy Jr. was here, so she took us up into that. It cost 7.50 € to go up the elevator to the observation deck. There are spyglasses all around for taking in detailed views of the city. Since it was a weekday, it wasn't very crowded & we went up & had coffee & pastries in the restaurant just a short flight of stairs up from the observation deck. Unlike the Space Needle where the entire disk spins, at the Turm, only the outer ring of table turns between a central core and the outer wall. The tables are numbered the servers can find you to bring your order. The table deck turns fairly fast, completing one cycle in 30 minutes. I took a lot of digital photos from there.

Next we walked down around the old government buildings the Berliner Dom church & the Museum Isle which has a palisaded walkway next to the Spree River. Roger & I used the opportunity to check museum prices & hours. A combo pass for all 5 museums right there is only 10 €. It's free the last 4 hours on Thursdays. Roger went home & we returned w/Mom, making a quick stop at the grocery store. Here they charge for shopping bags & for using a shopping cart, although you get the shopping cart fee back when you return the cart. After dinner  we decided to look for a Harley shop not far away. The shop was closed but not far from the Ku-Damm so we strolled there a while. The Hard Rock Cafe was down a side street so we had a drink and Troy bought some pins. I got my friend a pretty flashy guitar pin for lending me his nice digital camera for this trip. By the time we left, the thunder storm that had been threatening for 2 days finally broke. We got drenched trying to get to the bus stop, although it had stopped by the time we got back.

Day 4

Mom needed to do some shopping  & wanted us to go along. She said it wouldn't take that long but by the time we got back it was well after 1. Troy wanted to go to the Harley Motorclothes store near Ku-damm that was closed the night before.  We decided to walk the Ku'damm to the Europa Center. (These are two of the main tourist centers in Berlin, all about shopping. Most items are expensive but if anything elegant or trendy is to be had, it can be found here). We were tired when we got back but since Mom had an early Dr appt. that night, we cooked dinner for her while she was out. I made chop ché, a favorite Korean dish of ours.
 
At the Europa Center, we went in the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Churches (a pair of churches, old and new.  The old one was badly damaged in the war and is left restored only enough for safety. A new, modern building was built beside it) but the old one had a tour group crowding it so we couldn't really walk around. The new one was fairly empty - there are still services held there - so I stood in the back & admired the soothing blue glass for a while. The large gold statue of Jesus in there is in a modern art style that suits the modern, angular structure well. It is also unique in that Jesus does not hang on a cross. Rather, he is suspended with arms outstretched in a cross-like shape, but the effect is more as a benediction than one of the Lord in anguish on a cross. I like it for that. The gold is quite lovely against the indigo blue glass that surrounds everything.
 
The Europa Center was not too crowded & we got a very good exchange rate on the street across from the tangled intersection that is the main bus hub in that area. 

Day 5

Another interesting day, we decided it would be a good day to go to the museum & mom suggested a trip to the Nikolai Quarter & the dinner we promised her. It was sunny but a cold wind was blowing so we were glad to be inside the museum. There are 5 on the "Museum Island", a spot between the Spree River & the Kupfergraben Canal. We went to the Old National Gallery, the original National Museum of Berlin, built in the early 1800s. Although damaged in the war, it was the first museum to be repaired & was the main museum for East Berlin when it was divided. It had a lot of wonderful neo-classical marble sculpture as well as many bronze works, including Rodin's "the Thinker". Paintings included works by Cezanne, Pissaro, Degas, Van Gogh, Monet, Manet, Gaugin, Schinkel and more. A lot of the art depicted places in Berlin & historical scenes. Most of the art was created in the 1800s. The most impressive exhibit though, was the temporary display of sketches and full-sized drawings of Roman gods & the Battle of Troy by Peter Cornelius. Most of the info on this exhibit was in German but what I gathered was that these were the original full-sized detailed drawings for a series of frescoes meant to go in a building in Munich. I think they were never painted or placed there however, but ended up instead in Berlin where the frescoes were destroyed in the war. A few fragments of the actual paintings were displayed with their charcoal & pencil drawings. This art was absolutely beautiful! Large, finely detailed and exquisitely drawn. I would have loved to see them completed as the full color murals they were meant to be. This exhibit was only there till June 5, so we were very lucky to have seen it at all. The cost to go through just this museum is 8 €, but a ticket that covers all 5 on Museum Island is available. Photography with no flash is allowed, but it's a good idea to check coats. I had my windbreaker tied around my waist and a museum employee made me put it on. Lockers are available for only 1 € which you get back when you reclaim your items.
 
After we finished with the museum, we caught back up with Mom who'd waited in the lobby for us the whole time, and strolled over to the Nikolai Quarter, (warning, very graphics-intensive page) the oldest original part of Berlin. It's named after the Nikolai Church which stands at its center & is the oldest building in Berlin, built in 1205. It's a red brick church, lovely in its simplicity. There are a couple of statues in its lawn, but my favorite in that area was one we passed walking from the museum to that section, of St George fighting the dragon.click here for lots of pix of Nikolai Quarter Around the corner from St George is a hemp museum. Around the Nikolai Church are a series of old shop buildings & restaurants & some art original to the area such as an ancient well, a tall monument of the Berlin Bear inscribed all around the bottom with some of the original guilds or regiments of Berlin & some of the old shop signs from before everyone could read. Most of the restaurants in that square served authentic German food. Mom chose one with good prices & when we got inside discovered it had a wonderful atmosphere too. It looked like it was once a house or inn & still retained its wood-paneled walls & antique furniture. There were frog statues everywhere because the name of the place was Paddenwirt (Frog Host). The menu was available in several languages. Our English one explained that the restaurant's name came from a time when beer barrels were delivered in the river & care had to be taken lest a keg break in the water by bashing against the dock. This happened at some point & a bunch of frogs turned up to drink the beer & croaked noisily for several days. This place went by the name Paddenwirt ever since. We had an appetizer of asparagus soup (asparagus is a seasonal specialty in Germany and unlike our green type, theirs is white, grown to be harvested before it grows above the surface of the soil), drinks, dinner & after dinner drinks for 57 €. Pretty good price for the large servings and excellent food. We took the S-Bahn back just for a view of the city. One other note about the museums--when the Old National Gallery became the main museum for the East, West Berlin built the New National Gallery in 1968.
 

Day 6

We made it to the Egyptian Museum, where the bust of Nefertiti is.  We took the bus & U-Bahn to Potsdamer Platz where the Kulturforum is. This is another group of museums all together in one building. For 9 we got a combo ticket for the Egyptian collection and the Gemäldegalerie, a vast collection of paintings and sculpture dating from the 1400's to the 1800's. Most of it was religious art & included works by Bernini, Rembrandt, Botticelli, Rafael, Bruegel & countless others. There were over  1500 works on display in more than 30 rooms! We got tired long before we saw them all. I'd recommend using the map provided by the museum to start with favorite painters & do the rooms of 1400's church art last since most of those looked nearly identical. Some of them still smelled like church incense. There were some wood pieces in the Egyptian collection which was interesting since that wood was anywhere from 1000-3000 years old. Nefertiti herself was a bust of approximately life size. She looked to be made of porcelain & painted to lifelike colors. The Rosetta Stone is also in that gallery in the downstairs section. Another piece of interest down there was a complete wooden sarcophagus with its lid, all painted in images & hieroglyphics of great detail all over--front, back & inside. It is displayed in front of a mirror so the back can be viewed. A lot of the larger stone pieces in this gallery were fragments, but several different dynasties were represented along with  papyrus, stone & clay texts from them so you can see how their printed language changed. The bookstore had a book, in English, on how to read hieroglyphs. We were so exhausted by the time we finished the Gemäldegalerie though, that we didn't even return to the bookstore. Next time, I'll plan all day there with plenty of time for rest & a snack to see it all. At least the museum was not crowded & the bathrooms were clean & free, unlike the ones at the U-Bahn which cost 60 cents. We had to buy some groceries on our way home which turned out to be a challenge. A lot of stores have very little selection of meat. We tried 3 before we found what we needed.
 

Day 7

Yesterday started out with a short but pleasant visit with Mom's friend Lemmi. Her brother was Mom's first boyfriend. She had scanned & brought pictures of with her. Mom was 16 in some of them. There were also baby pix of me. I always hate those pix. 

Roger showed up a little after Lemmi left. He came by cab, late. We left with him to the Olympic Stadium, built for the 1936 Olympics. It's pretty far from here. We took the bus part way & then Troy decided to pay the 12 € for a cab to go the rest of the way, from the zoo to there. The game was Berlin Hertha, soccer. I'd never been to a soccer game before but it was a lot of fun. The most active fans gathered at one end of the stadium, The visiting team's fans have their own section. A lot of security is kept around the field to discourage trouble. A lot more is allowed to be brought in than at home, although everyone goes through a thorough search, including a pat-down, before entering. Many flags on flagpoles were all around, as well as various kinds of noisemakers. Almost everyone wears a scarf or several of the home team. Some fans wore a ring of these scarves tucked all around their waists so they resembled a kilt. Roger had one and brought one each for Troy and me also. It was a chilly day so I was glad to have it. When Hertha scores, the flags wave & everyone holds up their scarves or twirls them. Berlin was playing sloppily during the first half. The other team got a point when Hertha's goalie caught the ball in the goal box then dropped it there. Fortunately, they made a comeback in the 2nd half and won 3-1 by the end. I bought a scarf on the way out for 10 €. They are €15.95 in the stores so it was a good deal. Leaving the Stadium was a challenge because the train platforms were packed with several thousand drunk but happy fans but we still got to Mom's for dinner 30 minutes earlier than planned & told her about the game. We arranged that we would not go there for breakfast today but rather let her rest & spend time with Hanne who returned from his couple of days away, and we'd go there after lunch. We are taking her back to Paddenwirt tonight for dinner. Despite the wind, Troy and I are going to stroll the canal. We never had our boat trip because the weather has been too cold & drizzly, but I'm still hoping. It would be the perfect activity for us all to do together today or tomorrow.

Day 8

Yesterday was not only Mother's Day, but in Germany it was also Capitulation Day, the day WW2 ended in Germany. We went strolling & taking pictures in the morning then went on a boat ride with Mom (10 € pp).click for larger view of brochure pic It was a day of rain & sunbreaks, so the boat was almost empty. There were Troy, me, Mom and only one other person so it was like having a private cruise. The plan was to take the cruise halfway, get off at the Berliner Dome & have dinner at Paddenwirt, but we soon learned that the boat was not allowed to stop & let passengers off. Both the Nazis & the anti-Nazis had scheduled demonstrations for the day in the area so most of the area was blocked off to anyone not already there. We saw many people along the river & canal from the boat. We still did not grasp the full effect of how much of the area was blocked off, intending simply to take the S-Bahn back to the area for dinner. It wasn't until we got to the train station in Alexander Platz that we learned the full situation. The station was packed, all exits closed completely except one. Mom got directions out but none of the police had the wits to tell us more. Mom said most of them weren't from Berlin anyway. As we went out the single door allowing people out, we were told we couldn't get back in. It was clouding over quickly & we headed the way we needed to go only to find that ALL the entrances to the entire sector were closed. Mom was trying to talk to a policeman when it started to rain. There was so much tension in the atmosphere that when Mom stepped forward to try to talk to him under the shelter of the overpass they blocked that he got mad & all the policemen there closed ranks & became threatening. I could hardly see because my rain hood falls too low over my eyes, but Troy realized what happened & rushed me over to her with my umbrella. We left, wondering what to do. All roads blocked, not allowed back to the train, & 9000 police with no info. We kept walking & I saw a couple of restaurants. One was a pizzeria & mom suggested we go there instead of trying to figure out how to get back to the Nikolai Quarter. I had lasagna, she had pizza & Troy had a calzone. The food was ok we passed the time over drinks. As we were just figuring how far in the opposite direction we might have to walk to find running buses or an open train station, the roads finally opened. When a string of policemen came in, to eat we thought, we laughed when they all made a beeline straight to the bathroom. We left immediately & got home with no further trouble except for crowded trains. As we watched the news, we learned that the anti-Nazi protest had been forceful enough to cause the Nazi demonstration to be cancelled. The police were tense & roads blocked because of that power & potential for trouble, although there was no violence. Throughout the day, Mom told us that even though the government had tried to make the Nazi party illegal, eventually they had to allow them because nothing in their official charter is against the law. Encouraged by the very old, the young have built strength in the party to the point where in one city, they managed to actually elect a Nazi into a council seat. I didn't let on how sad that news made me. It was encouraging however to see how outnumbered they are & that the heart of the German people in general remembers that evil and stands against it. I hope that strength continues and grows.

 

Day 9

We will be leaving in just a little while. Seems planes never leaver Berlin for home except at 6 AM. Yesterday was good though. Roger took us to Kreuzberg, the Classic Bike shop (a motorcycle shop specializing in Harleys). We picked up a couple of Harley shirts at a better price than they were at the Motorsports store near the Ku-damm. There was an Unsolved Mysteries exhibit in the area but it was expensive for the likely cheese so we didn't go in. Since we were running around, we suggested Roger take us to his pub & let us meet his girlfriend & friends. That was interesting. Doris speaks hardly any English but she seemed very nice. Roger invited her over for dinner with us & we were pleasantly surprised when she actually showed up. Roger has been teaching her cribbage so we played a 3-way game while Mom finished cooking dinner. Doris won that game & the both of us skunked Roger. He still counts her points for her but at least she tries. They left not long after dinner & we went back downstairs to clean & finish packing around 9. That took a couple of hours & 3:30 AM came pretty early this morning. Roger met us at the airport so we had a nice last visit before leaving. I'm glad to be on my way home but it is always hard to be leaving him behind. I hope he will come back again next year.

 
We are in Amsterdam now after a peaceful flight. We have a couple of hours to kill & already had a snack & shopped. There is a temporary museum exhibit from the Kroeller-Mueller Museum, the same museum that sent an exhibit of Van Gogh, Seurat, Monet & Mondrian to the Seattle Art Museum this past summer. There were around 20 pieces, 1/2 from the 1600's that included still lives and portraits, & the other half was from the early 1900's & were in the ultra-simplified geometric patterns. I never liked those much but enjoyed the pieces from the 1600's very much.
 
It has been a good trip over all.

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